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Blogging about things that matter to me. Photographing things I love - Instagram @debcyork. Writing about both. Only wine and chocolate can save us… You can also find me on Twitter (@debcyork) and Facebook. If you like four-legged views, try @missbonniedog on Twitter

Monday, 27 October 2014

Be My Guest

This last week, every time I have sat down to write, something has interrupted me.  Stuff completely beyond my control but I do apologise for the silence (although maybe you were relieved). 
However, I have been attempting to write a post about my great great great grandfather Edward Guest.  I was even going through my notes as I sat waiting in A&E after my son sustained a footballing injury - not serious incidentally, I am not completely heartless!  So here, finally, is the tale of Edward Guest... 

I knew that one of my paternal great great grandmothers had been Annie Jane Guest and from her marriage and baptism details, I knew that her father was called Edward.  Until last year, however, I had not pursued this line of inquiry very far.  Reading a back copy of a  Families In British India Society (FIBIS) journal though, I came across a mention of an Edward Guest.  The article's author Dorota Walker was a British Library employee and had been engaged in research in areas of the library's resources outside of the India Office collections.  [These are the collections that relate to the entire period of British rule in India - the East India Company, the Empire and all their records.  Follow this link for details.]

Anyway, she had stumbled upon two volumes from the papers of a Sir Charles Napier relating to his time with the Indian Army.  Some related to the 22nd Regiment of Foot and amongst them was a permit for a Private Edward Guest.  From her description of him and from the follow up work I was able to do, I am sure that this was my ancestor.

Edward Guest was born in Belfast in 1808.  A labourer by trade, he signed up for the army in 1825 and joined the 41st Regiment of Foot.  He served in Burma, Afghanistan and Madras apparently.  There are records relating to him in the National Archives though and these concern three court martials.  Two in 1834 for drunkenness and theft.  He served three months in solitary the first time.  The theft charge brought a sentence of fourteen years "transportation" but this ruling was overturned for, as yet, unknown reasons.  Makes one wonder what he stole!  The court martial papers for these two appearances can be seen at the FIBIS website.
The third was in 1839, again for drunkenness.  According to the FIBIS article, this resulted in the loss of a Good Conduct badge - I could not find this note.  In the meantime, he had married, in 1837, an "Indo Briton" (ie an Anglo Indian) woman named Amelia Emsley.  The marriage record states that she was fifteen - her baptism record suggests that she was probably thirteen... shocking to us now but not unusual then.  Her father Joseph Emsley had also been in the 41st Foot and the Emsleys were a large family.

Between 1838 and 1861, Amelia and Edward had at least eight children - I suspect there may be others as yet untraced as there are some long gaps between them.  Five children were living when Guest made his first petition in around 1850.  He had been discharged from the army in 1846 (having transferred to the 22nd Regiment of Foot in 1843 in order to remain with his family when the 41st returned to England).  "Extreme ill health" was cited.  He then managed to get a permit to open a stall in the bazar [market] of the 22nd Foot - selling anything but alcohol!  The pension award is also shown on FIBIS - 26 April 1846.  However, in 1848 his pension was withdrawn - it looks like drunkenness is given as the reason for this....

Ex-Private Guest must have been desperate at this point.  He obviously had issues with alcohol - a common problem in the army in India in the nineteenth century as it was not exactly a stimulating posting - Billy Connolly's Who Do You Think You Are? gave further details of British India army life recently and it left a lot to be desired!  He managed for two years but then tried and failed to get his pension reinstated in 1850.  In 1854 he wrote to Sir Charles Napier and even to the Duke of Wellington [hence the tenuous use of his picture above! - I could not identify the correct uniform for Guest - when you Google, you get lots of re-enactment society snaps...].  There are no records pertaining to the result of this second attempt.

At my great great grandmother Annie Jane's birth in 1858, Guest is listed as "a discharged soldier of the 41st Regiment of Foot".  Then in 1860, he died on 10 September of "ebritas".  If you were watching the  Billy Connolly WDYTYA episode, you may remember that this is alcoholism.  He was buried a day later, aged around 52.  [As an even sadder postscript, his youngest daughter Isabella Bedelia was born in 1861.  Her father is listed as the "late Edward Guest".  She herself only lived for a year.]

By my calculation, my 3 x great grandmother Amelia was then left with at least three children who would still have been dependent, including my toddler great, great grandmother.  In 1860, Amelia also lost her father Joseph, then aged 72, to dysentery.  Her mother had died in 1841.
In a move typical of the times in which she lived, Amelia Guest almost immediately remarried.  Another soldier, Daniel Liffick.  He had been widowed only months before he married Amelia in June 1861 but it would seem to have given both of them a form of security as he too had young children to cope with.  However, in 1870, Daniel Liffick - by then working as a guard on the Great Indian Peninsula Railway - died of "an accidental gunshot wound to the chest" according to his death record.  I am still looking into this - not that he is directly related to me, of course but as previous readers of the blog will know, I find it hard to resist a detour when an interesting story awaits!
So it just goes to show what information is out there about apparently lowly relatives.  We can find chapter and verse about the Duke of Wellington of course (although I prefer to think of him as Stephen Fry played him in Blackadder The Third!) but Edward Guest, Joseph Emsley and Daniel Liffick were in the lowest ranks of the British Army and there is far more available to find then I ever thought would be possible.  Incidentally, if you want to make a start with military records, the National Archives are the best place to begin but the various chat forums such as Victorian Wars are also very good.


  1. This is also my ancestor, a document I have basically states that alcohol was used in India due to clean water being scarce.

    Also, I have been told he was the son of Josiah Guest with his first wife, which isn't documented publicly.

    1. I don't know how true this is as I've not seen the documents. My cousin says he's seen them.

      Also, any idea where Edward is buried?

    2. Hi, thanks for commenting. Really interested to hear from you. I haven't found any proof of Edward's parentage as yet. Being Irish, the records are complicated to get hold of. Plus there do seem to have been a fair few Guests! I will have another dig now I have this possibility. Re burial place - I think it was on the death record but I don't have that to hand as I write now. I will check what I have. Where does your line fit in? Which of the many children do you descend from? Deb

    3. I'm not convinced he is Irish, may be Welsh, given Josiah was Welsh. I was told due to him being born illegitimately he was "shipped off" to Ireland and his dad just paid for his upkeep.

      I'm from Thomas C. Guest's line, which is complicated enough as it is.

    4. I have been doing some digging and there are a number of Josiah Guests in Wales, including one quite well-known guy, and their dates fit. So I guess it is possible. But it might have suited the family to imply a link to a well known Guest, even an illegitimate one. Edward's sign up papers for the army are quite categoric about his birthplace being Antrim though. They are online. The Guest tree is fascinating though. How far have you got with Thomas? do you have any original documentation which is private and not online? I think all of ours went to New Zealand with my great grandmother, if there was ever anything.